France, Greece and Bulgaria have pledged to update their national targets for renewable energy and bump up the share of wind, solar and other renewables to 33%, 35% and 27% of their energy consumption respectively by 2030.
The announcements were made on Tuesday (24 September) as part of a public debate among EU energy ministers on the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) submitted by the bloc’s 28 member states.
“France has decided to raise its objective from 32 to 33%,” said Fabrice Dubreuil, the deputy permanent representative of France to the European Union, who represented his country at today’s ministerial meeting in Brussels.
Other countries announced similar pledges, with Greece and Bulgaria saying they will raise their own renewables target from 31 to 35% and from 25 to 27%, respectively. Greece had already surprised observers at the UN climate summit in New York on Monday by announcing plans to phase out coal entirely by 2028.
In introductory remarks to Tuesday’s meeting, the EU Commission vice-president in charge of the energy union, Maroš Šefčovič, reminded national governments about the “ambition gap” in meeting Europe’s objectives on renewables and energy efficiency.
According to the European Commission, renewable energy deployment is on track to fall short by 1.6 percentage points against a 32% target for 2030. And energy efficiency measures risk leaving a gap of 6.2 percentage points versus a 32.5% benchmark agreed last year.
“Where I see the bigger challenge is energy efficiency,” Šefčovič said. “We’re doing the most but we know we can do better.”
Call for cash
Former communist countries like Poland, Czechia and Hungary, for their part, underlined the need to increase financing available to meet the bloc’s 2030 energy and climate objectives.
Poland, one the staunchest opponents to raising the bloc’s energy and climate targets, was among the most outspoken.
“It’s easy to lay down political objectives but more difficult to realise them,” said Krzysztof Tchorzewski, the Polish energy minister. The Polish targets “are already very ambitious,” Tchorzewski pointed out, saying any increase would come at “dangerous socio-economic costs” for his country.
Further moves from Poland “should be covered by EU funds in the spirit of European solidarity,” the minister insisted, referring to ongoing discussions about the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027.
According to a study by McKinsey consultants for power industry association Eurelectric, the transformation of Poland’s energy sector will require some €147 billion in investments until 2045.
Poland’s views were echoed by other former communist states. “We are currently analysing whether there are sufficient funds available” to increase the share of energy efficiency and renewables, said the Czech representative, who insisted that “affordability” was crucial to meeting climate objectives.
The Latvian representative added that it was “essential to find additional public financing for the implementation of targets” and said more ambitious targets could be envisaged if more money was made available.
No EU money for nuclear, Germany says
Poorer Eastern European nations were not alone in complaining about the cost of the energy transition.
Germany’s energy state secretary, Andreas Feicht, underlined the importance of relaxing the EU’s strict state aid rules when it comes to financing renewables and energy efficiency. Meeting the 2030 targets “will depend very largely on offshore wind,” said the German secretary of state. “This is important to take into account when revising state aid rules,” Feicht added.
This position was echoed by Fabrice Dubreuil, the French representative, who said “a revision of state aid rules is indispensable” to meet the EU’s 2030 objectives.
Earlier this year, the European Commission proposed updating its state aid guidelines, saying subsidies for renewable energies should be phased out as wind and solar were becoming competitive with fossil fuels.
EU ministers have sometimes differed sharply as to the technologies needed to meet the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal, which is being resisted by Poland and three other East European countries.
While Warsaw wants nuclear power to complement renewable energy sources, Germany opposed any suggestion that EU money could be used to back nuclear.
“Nuclear energy is not safe and sustainable or cost-effective,” Feicht said. “So we reject the idea of EU money to extend the life of nuclear power stations”.